Ten things about Baptists

In my novel The Secret Side of Jaya, she learns a lot about Baptists while living in the Ozarks.

For starters, within their shared identity, they come in all varieties of theological nuance and group practice – and the lines within them can be drawn sharply. And they don’t handle snakes as part of their worship.

Here are a few facts:

  1. Baptism is reserved for believing “born again” adults and is usually by water immersion only. Jesus is accepted as Lord and Savior.
  2. Church authority, with few exceptions, is placed in the local congregation, which can voluntarily affiliate with other like-minded fellowships. Beliefs can vary by congregation, historically along Calvinist versus Arminian lines. Far more than I want to get into here, other than say I’m in the Arminian camp.
  3. The major affiliations in the U.S. are the Southern Baptist Convention, American Baptist Association, National Baptist Convention, National Baptist Convention of America, American Baptist Churches USA, and Baptist Bible Fellowship International. Far from the only ones.
  4. There are also Independent Baptist churches that refuse to affiliate with others.
  5. Faith is a matter between God and the individual. Thus, absolute liberty of conscience is essential.
  6. The Bible is asserted as the only norm of faith and practice. So start flipping pages.
  7. Baptist membership is roughly 100 million worldwide – half of them in the USA, where they constitute a third of American Protestants, especially in the South.
  8. They make up more than 40 percent of the population in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.
  9. Forty-five percent of African-Americans identify themselves as Baptists.
  10. The Lord’s Supper, or communion, is considered symbolic and not necessary for salvation. There is no set calendar for its observance.

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Does this make their identity any clearer? We haven’t even touched on some of the key theological language.

 

Ten historical figures who inspire me

Let’s skip past Jesus and Lincoln and King David and Gandhi, Martin Luther King, etc. Go to more regular folks who also had everyday lives.

  1. Charles Ives, 1874-1954, classical composer and Manhattan insurance executive, an “American original” in both fields. Or even a maverick. Seriously overlooked when it comes to performances and airings.
  2. Charles Kettering, 1876-1958, American inventor. Second only to Edison in the number of patents.
  3. Arthur Morgan, 1878-1975, a civil engineer Kettering encouraged on a life of notable public service in flood control and higher education.
  4. Abigail Adams, 1707-1783, first wife in the second presidency and equal to any of the First Fathers. She really knew how to write a letter.
  5. Jenny Thompson, 1973-present, big-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer. Despite serious setbacks, including biased judging against her, she was persistent. Better still, she claims Dover as her hometown and works as a pediatrician up the coast in Maine. How can I not think of her every time I swim in the big outdoor pool carrying her name?
  6. J.S. Bach, 1685-1750, as an example of daily practice and faith.
  7. John Woolman, 1720-1772, Quaker minister who confronted economic and racial injustice. Many of his critical insights regarding wealth and oppression fit today, too.
  8. Emelia Bassano Lanier, 1569-1645, apparently the real author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. I’m buying the argument. The works now take on a fresh vitality.
  9. Elizabeth Hooten, 1600-1672, the real mother of the Quaker movement and first woman preacher, quite outspoken, no sleight intended for Margaret Fell. She even came to Dover in 1662 and was severely treated by Massachusetts authorities, despite a letter from King Charles II. I wish we had more from her on the record.
  10. The Theotokos, mother of Jesus, in Eastern Orthodox theology envisioned as something much more than a Virgin Mary. Literally, “the God-bearer.” I mean, she’s addressed as the Mother of God! The implications – and personal interior experience – are mind-boggling for anyone seeking a feminine experience of Judeo-Christian thought, especially when we get back to the everyday life part.

~*~

Well, this list has changed over my life!

Who would you name?

Mottoes to live by

Dunno if this counts as a motto, but I still like it: “Duma Luma!” From a private cartoon to me, evolving into an earlier incarnation of my novel Subway Visions. Here are ten more.

  1. “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free” – Nikos Kazantzakis, “Japan, China,” 1963
  2. “Abide in me”– Jesus of Nazareth
  3. “Jesus is the unseen guest in this house” – as inscribed over a Quaker family’s doorway in Belmont County, Ohio, followed by, “He listens to every conversation.”
  4. “The closer we get to our hopes, the closer we get to our fears” – artist Lita Albuquerque
  5. “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for mankind” – Horace Mann
  6. “Mind the Light” – old Quaker counsel
  7. “I make dreams … I don’t see clothes, I see the world” – Ralph Lauren
  8. “Everyone wants to reach for something a little higher. … Part of Ralph’s genius is he understood life’s aspirational”  – Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s buyer
  9. “Randomness invites the universe to speak” – James Bartolino
  10. “You better be good to toads,” Cassia in What’s Left

~*~

Yay!

We’re all ears for any you might want to share.

 

Ever been in a barn?

You already know about the barn I’ve owned the past 20 years – the one that gives this blog its name. It’s modest, as barns go – more of a carriage house, common in an old New England city like ours, but “carriage house” sounds pretentious and ours isn’t. I usually call them “urban barns.”

I grew up in a Midwestern industrial city, and barns were usually something we passed out in the country. Even so, my novels Nearly Canaan, Yoga Bootcamp, and Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, each feature a barn.

Here are ten I especially remember.

~*~

  1. Uncle Arlie’s. We spent many Sundays and holidays at my dad’s aunt and uncle’s farm. I loved climbing around in the rafters and loft, even though it was dangerous.
  2. Grandpa’s. A small “urban barn” at the rear of Grandma and Grandpa’s yard on the other side of town was stuffed with supplies for his plumbing company. I can still almost smell it.
  3. Dad’s birthplace. Once, traveling with Grandpa, we stopped at a farm in the middle of nowhere. He introduced me to a strange man and took me inside the barn on the farm while telling me this is where my dad was born. I was around five, maybe no older than seven, and didn’t fully understand, especially the idea of home births much less than Dad wasn’t born in a city. What I do remember is all the light shining through the slats of the walls.
  4. Moler Dairy. From our side window when I was growing up, we could see a working dairy. It had a large white barn facing busy Smithfield Road, while we were on a quiet side street. I did get to tour the bottom level a few times, with its stanchions and cows. The brick milking parlor was next to it.
  5. Hippie farm. After college, I shared a farmhouse with a circle of other free spirits. Its small, ramshackle barn provided living space for some of the characters in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks.
  6. Ashram. That sturdy brown barn is described in Yoga Bootcamp. It was Swiss-style, set in the side of a hill.
  7. Ivar’s. Our landlord in Wapato had one of the most impressive barns in the Yakima Valley. It was white frame, rather than modern metal, and had three large levels. It’s detailed in Nearly Canaan.
  8. The Antique House. The large attached barn, as many in New England are, is part of the house where elder stepdaughter reigns. It’s second-nature now.
  9. Silas and Connie Weeks. They were intent on restoring their ancient farm in Eliot, Maine. Quaker Meeting even had a wedding reception in theirs.
  10. Parsell Farm. Serves as a farm stand just up the road in Rochester. Our principal source of hay for the rabbits.

~*~

A few others I should mention include the massive Shaker barn in Canterbury where I contradanced once, and another in Ohio I once toured. A similar one, but kept to a single story, was at a friend’s summer home in Sandwich in the White Mountains to our north. And then there was a decrepit one at my goddaughter’s family in Enfield, Maine, that was too far gone to repair.

~*~

What are your experiences with barns?

What do you know about apples?

Maybe Jaya and Joshua took apples for granted when they moved into an orchard in my novel Nearly Canaan. That ignorance didn’t last long.

Here are a few of the things they may have discovered.

  1. Apples are a member of the rose family. (Good thing they don’t have thorns!)
  2. Apples have to be picked by hand.
  3. The trees require four or five years to produce their first fruit. Some trees grow to be 100.
  4. Apples account for half of the world’s deciduous fruit tree production. China, by the way, grows more apples than any other country.
  5. They come in sizes ranging from as small as a cherry to as big as a grapefruit – and can weigh up to three pounds.
  6. More than 2,500 varieties are grown in the U.S. but only the crabapple is native. Globally, more than 7,500 varieties are raised.
  7. The first apple tree in North America was planted by the Pilgrims.
  8. The harvest from an average tree can fill 20 bushels or boxes each weighing 42 pounds.
  9. About 36 apples go into a gallon of cider.
  10. Upstate New York used to be a big producer until acid rain from Midwestern coal-powered plants led to serious blight.

~*~

And, yes, as far as that apple a day doctor thing goes, the fruit has no sodium, cholesterol, or fat but is rich in fiber.

What can you add to the list?

Beware, the Romantic Cult of the Artist

Yes, we’ve admired madmen, especially those of a tragic sort via what I see as often incestuous works of art. You know, celebrations of other works of art or, especially, their creators.

In effect, there’s a question. Other works based on mythology, classical or Nordic, typically, face immortals who are still caught in some dimension of time – how else could they spawn children?

Turning the focus from flawed gods to the Immortal Artist, then, implicitly asks: Are madmen closer to God? Or filled with demons to be cast out, perhaps as artworks?

You know, the cliché history of poet suicides or pianist-composers who die at an early age or libertine actresses, that sort of tragedy, not always as a consequence of defying the gods, either. Think of all the poets in the core opera librettos – a shorthand for the librettist himself or the social commentator – as well as the composers or singers. It’s a long list.

Remember, too, in many Native cultures, there’s a special place for the madman as gateway to ancient wisdom or healing or a netherworld.

Admired madmen but also feared them. Just don’t get too close, even with a morbid curiosity.

Like the artist, they exist at the fringe of the village.

It’s implicit even in hymns about hymns and the raising of voices.

And also my speaking here as a fellow poet and novelist.

~*~

It’s hard to look beyond our own boundaries and explore the greater world beyond.

This is crucial, if we’re to engage others, in light of murder, rape, warfare, and other oppression and injustice around us. Is art really far from fostering imitation in life itself? Or is it rather for escape from any reality? Do we desire encounter or flight?

Earlier, I admired dazzling tricks and outward style, derring-do, and jests with fancy footwork. Shining surfaces and surreal images.

Over time, that’s changed.

My heroes have become more human and flawed, as well.

~*~

Throughout much of Friends’ history, many of the fine arts were offensive to the faithful; most painting, drawing, sculpture, fiction, theater, music, and opera were seen as superfluous vanities, engagements that took our attention away from worship. “We Quakers only read true things” is how one Friend expressed the matter when returning an unread novel to a neighbor. For a people who refused even gravestones, worldly adornments detracted from loving a heavenly Father with all their heart, mind, and soul, as well as loving one another as Christ had loved his/its followers.

Tertullian issued a related warning, in De Spectaculis, Latin circa 200 CE. Essentially: “The Author of truth loves no falsehood: all that is feigned is adultery in His sight. The man who counterfeits voice, sex or age, who makes a show of false love, anger, sighs and tears He will not approve, for He condemns all hypocrisy. … Why should it be lawful to see what it is a crime to do?” (Translation by Kenneth Morse)

As was recognized in Zen some centuries ago, when people started writing and singing and painting and acting from their spiritual practice, the flowering is already past its zenith. Nonetheless, we also know the power of the Zen-suffused works as they extended on to pottery, architecture, tea ceremony, even martial arts.

When I view Japanese and Chinese art, the Zen/Chan pieces jump out in their freshness from the well-schooled stream of traditional art.

Thus, with poetry or musical performance that knows living silence: a whole higher dimension. Necessity for revolution here. Transformation. Transfiguration. Transcendence. Transparency, too.

Is this a matter of like recognizing like spirit?

~*~

My real distrust of the celebration of the artist as a demigod comes in a plea for greater humility.

Yes, we work – as the poem Toltecatl, translated as “The Artist” by Denise Leverov details lovingly before countering with “The carrion artist: works at random, sneers at the people, / makes things opaque, brushes across the surface of things, / works without care, defrauds people, is a thief.”

The contrast is telling.

We’re hardly alone in work. Plumbers work, paying the price in their knees. Farmers work. Teachers work. Mothers, especially, work. Go on down the line, and admire all who do so with developed skill and intelligence and service. Who can say one field is truly superior the others?

~*~

I’m left wondering about a crossover identity of artist and priest, an expectation that the artist is expected to guide others into love or even the natural wonder around us.

It’s a fine line, between being a priest and a demigod. An inflated ego is a constant temptation, among others.

Still, how can I not love the movie “Amadeus”?

Who do you look to for inspiration?

People of today I admire

OK, I’m counting couples as one here. And I’m excluding some nominees I celebrated earlier in the year in my ten fine couples list. Here goes:

  1. The Obamas, of course.
  2. And my wife and daughters and the two guys they bring into my life. Natchurally. Think of this as a team.
  3. Noah Merrill, the ever patient and faithful field secretary of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends.
  4. Brown Letham, energetic painter and activist and father of one very fine author.
  5. Jim and Eden Grace, holy peaceniks on a global scale.
  6. Timothy and Nijmeh Curren, Orthodox priest and presbvtera.
  7. George and Althea Coussoule, welcoming stalwarts of Dover’s Greek community.
  8. Sherry Wood. See my dedication in Hometown News.
  9. Jay O’Hara, free-Gospel minister and Quaker activist.
  10. Gary Snyder, American poet and Zen Buddhist.

~*~

So what if this adds up to more than ten individuals in all?

Who’s high on your own list?

How about some remarkable couples?

Sometimes the sum is greater than the parts. Helps when each of the parts is already sterling.

Here are ten examples.

~*~

  1. My best friend’s parents: Hap and Pauline. Among other things, they nurtured my love of classical music.
  2. Our drip-line neighbors: Tim and Maggie. Warm, welcoming, generous, helpful, social justice activists, great parents. The list could go on.
  3. Political science mentors: Vincent and Elinor. They taught me how to read analytically and how to dissect public policy proposals. As professors, they never used textbooks but relied on real books, like the Federalist Papers or Democracy in America. Their goal was to train independent scholars and fellow practitioners.
  4. My ex in-laws: Sam and Jeanice. Losing them was the hardest part of the divorce.
  5. Can you identify them in the novel? Phyllis and Ivar.
  6. Memorable ministers: Myrtle and Howard at Winona Friends Meeting. She had the entire Bible memorized. And the dynamics were multiplied when they were joined by their best friends and neighbors, Rose and Harold.
  7. Faithful Mennonites: Bob and Ruby. I learned to sing harmony through Bob, who was also a beloved physics teacher and an avid Orioles fan. Ruby had taught in a one-room schoolhouse before moving on to the big city of Baltimore. She packed the most amazing dinners in her small tote bag, which she shared with all of us at the ballgames.
  8. Fellow Quakers: Jeremiah and Beth. Now that they’ve moved to Dover, we’re getting to know them even better. Lucky us.
  9. An ex-girlfriend’s parents: Gene and Doris. They welcomed me to a whole new world and were surprisingly liberal when it came to their daughter. Guess they really liked me.
  10. Cornerstones of the Meeting: Silas and Connie. Wish I could show you the video. And then, just up the road at Gonic, we had Shirley and Eddie.

~*~

Who would you nominate from your own circles?